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When God’s People Fail – Amos 3:9-15

Amos0615Notice how the ideas in Amos chapter 3 are organized:

  • The opening verses of chapter 3 identify the people against whom Amos is prophesying: “against the whole family that [God] brought up out of the land of Egypt.” (Discussed here.)
  • Verses 3-8 speak of Amos’s own role as a prophet. (Discussed here.)
  • Verses 9-15 speak of the destruction that will fall upon the nation.

The prophet calls the surrounding nations to witness against YHWH’s Chosen People.

Verse 9:

הַשְׁמִיעוּ עַל־אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאַשְׁדּוֹד וְעַל־אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְאִמְרוּ הֵאָסְפוּ עַל־הָרֵי שֹׁמְרוֹן וּרְאוּ מְהוּמֹת רַבּוֹת בְּתוֹכָהּ וַעֲשׁוּקִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ
“Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, ‘Assemble yourselves on Mount Samaria, and see what great tumults are within it, and what oppressions are in its midst.’”

The people of God are on display. Their behavior is being judged by the nations around them. The tumults (מְהוּמֹת) and oppressions (וַעֲשׁוּקִים) in its midst shock even the nations. The witnesses are to assemble on Mount Samaria — indicating, as usual, that the Northern Kingdom is the main focus of this prophecy (though, compare verse 13). Amos chooses two nations as his witnesses — he mentions Ashdod, a major city of the Philistines, and then Egypt. It is, of course, significant that the invited witnesses are also traditional enemies of the nation. Before them, Israel is put to shame — before these nations who are not the chosen of YHWH. Yet, the prophet implies, they have a better sense of right and wrong. They become the judges. (more…)

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We Need Prophets – Amos 3:3-8

Amos0615The opening verses of chapter 3 identify the people against whom Amos is prophesying: “the whole family that [God] brought up out of the land of Egypt.” They are the people that God has especially known. But, their special relationship with God implied a responsibility to live a life that reflected the character of the God who redeemed them.

Now, in verses 3-8, Amos talks about his own role as a prophet.

It begins with a series of cause and effect questions: when you see a certain effect, you can infer its cause? Or, as we might say: “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” They go like this:

 

  • Two people are walking together —> they must have made an appointment
  • A lion roars in the forest —> the lion must have caught something
  • A bird falls into a snare —> there must have been a trap
  • A snare springs up —> it must have taken something
  • A trumpet is blown in the city —> the people must be afraid

 

This is another one of Amos’ rhetorical devices, he is leading up to something — the last cause and effect is a little different: (more…)

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The Bronze Serpent – Numbers 21:4-9

Hebrew_bible_4The Old Testament is a wonderful gift from God to us. It is wonderful that we have this record — so ancient, so fascinating. These were the Scriptures of the earliest Christians — who turned to them to understand what God had done in their midst in Christ. It was the context of these Scriptures in which Jesus himself had taught — to a community shaped by it’s stories and laws and prophecies and poetry.

And if anything is central to the Old Testament itself, it is the first five books.

No doubt the material we currently know as the books of Moses (or the Pentateuch, or the Torah — that is, Genesis through Deuteronomy) were assembled and edited in the period of Israel’s exile in Babylon — they became especially valuable to the people in the times of the exile and then the re-establishment of the nation — they served to teach the people who they were in the light of their history as the people of YHWH. But, the stories themselves go back much further. The people of Israel knew themselves to be a nation that had been delivered by God from Egypt — and the exile, no doubt served as a time to gather those stories together. (more…)

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It Matters What God You Trust – Psalm 115:8, 9.

psalmsThere is a progression of thought in Psalm 115 that is easy to follow. The thoughts move forward in a series of steps. Here’s how it has gone thus far:

  • Step one: Glory belongs to God and not to the nation (v. 1). (See: No Glory to Us and Glory to God’s Name.)
  • Step two: Why should the nations say ‘Where is there God?’ (v.2).
  • Step three: What Israel’s God is Like (v. 3). (See: The God Who Can’t Be Manipulated.)
  • Step four: What the nations’ gods are like (vv. 4-8).
  • Step five: A call for Israel to renew its trust in Yahweh (vv. 9-11).

So, now the Psalm turns from reflections on whatever misfortune has come upon them, to an affirmation of renewed hope in their God. (more…)

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The Anointed Preacher – Isaiah 61:1–4

Hebrew_bible_4We are told in the Gospel of Luke 4:16-19 that when Jesus had opportunity to speak to the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the scroll the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 and announced: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). These verses in Isaiah described Jesus’ mission in life.

These ancient words speak to us today of the vocation of the preacher — then and now. When we first come to these verses in the prophecy of Isaiah (or Third Isaiah or whatever his name was) we immediately wonder: who is the prophet talking about? Is this the writer’s mission or is he speaking of someone else? Questions like this might not arise if it weren’t for the fact that the prophecies of the book of Isaiah can be quite mysterious that way. Who is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53? Who is the “servant” of Isaiah 42:1? Who is the figure spoken of in Isaiah 11:2? Who is speaking in Isaiah 48:16? You see what I’m saying.

(more…)

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The Prophecy Comes Home – Amos 2:1-5

Amos0615Amos continues his prophecies against the nations (which I discussed last week) in this chapter.

Review: You don’t see what the prophet is doing here until you see that Amos 1-2 is a unit. And, it is carefully structured. Verse 2 pictures the LORD (YHWH) roaring like a lion. Then a series or oracles of judgement follow. Each is for a different nation. They are introduced with this repeated formula:

עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי
“For three transgressions of _____________,
וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ
and for four, I will not turn back….”

There is a certain rhetorical power in this repeated formula. But, this whole poetic prophecy is going somewhere. It’s building. It is going to end in an extended prophecy of judgement at the end (in our chapter 2). And, the weight of this prophecy of judgement is going to fall on Israel. (more…)

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The Moral Governor of the Nations – Amos 1:3-15

lion22The time in which the prophet Amos lived was a time of peace and prosperity. But, the prophet could hear God roaring like a lion — in anger.

Amos the prophet was certain that there was a God to whom the nations must give account. There was a moral judge of the world.

No doubt this was a growing realization among the people of Israel. The God they worshiped was not a localized god — not simply their God, but the God of all the nations. YHWH was the God to whom all the nations were accountable.

So, in these verses, the prophet begins with this notion: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will call the nations to accountability. (more…)

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Remembrance Inspires Praise – Psalm 135:13-21

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsThis is essentially a Psalm of praise. We are called into praise from the very opening “Hallelujah” (praise Yah). So, it is a song of worship and it calls us into an attitude of worship. As Adam Clarke says: “It is an exhortation addressed to the priests and Levites, and to all Israel, to publish the praises of the Lord.”

The opening verses are an exhortation to worship.

Verses 3-5, and 6, 7 extol God’s greatness.

Verses 8-12 remind the people of Israel of God’s saving acts in their history: their deliverance from Egypt and the defeat of legendary kings. Then, they are called again to praise.

Remembrance has a significance for our faith. it is good to recount for ourselves the answered prayers we have experienced — and the unexpected blessing of God on our lives. The Bible is a book of remembrance: recounting the deeds of the Lord God in times past, as a way of illuminating our lives in the present. We know God through what God has done. For Christians, it is the story of Jesus — before any other — that calls forth our praise.

And, so it is that in this psalm, the remembrance of God’s deliverance in the past, calls forth praise. (more…)

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To Whom Does God Speak? – Amos 1:2

lion22There is a lion roaring, but only the prophet can hear.

I said that the opening editorial note in the book of Amos (1:1) already raises an issue for me. The issue is: Who speaks for God? It may not be the person we thought was authorized to do so.

Which also brings to mind another question: ‘To Whom (if anyone) does God speak?'”

The prophet is the one who sees what others do not. There is an interesting detail in the way Amos 1:1 tells us about this prophecy: Amos spoke what he saw. “The words of Amos… which he saw….” Amos conveyed the sense of what he saw.

But, in Amos 1:2 it is more a matter of what he heard: (more…)

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“I Am” Sayings in the New Testament (a list)

IFThis post is primarily just a list — for me to archive — and for those who might be interested. I have also included (at the end) a video presentation by Dr. Andrew Lincoln on the significance of the “I am” passages in the Gospel of John.

In one of the churches I pastored, I led a series of brief Lenten studies on the “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John. In preparation for this, I did a search to find how many sayings like this there really were. I was a bit surprised how many I found.

Occasionally I get asked about this, so it occurs to me that there may be other people who would also find this list interesting. (more…)

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The Power of the Creator God – Psalm 135:6,7

If we are to follow God, if we are to trust God, we must have some assurance about God’s character. It is only natural that Bible often spends time with this issue. If we are to trust in God we need some assurance also of God’s power. Is God able to uphold us through the difficulties of life? To me, these are the issues addressed in Psalm 135:7,8.

lightening-and-rainWhich brings me back to the circumstances that made Psalm 135 so vivid to me in the first place. I started reading and meditating on this psalm on a stormy morning. There was a thunderstorm raging outside. And, it is clear that the Psalmist saw the power of God in the thunderstorm. It was not an unruly, threatening natural event — somehow the thunderstorm was also under the sovereign power of God.

So there is no need to ultimately fear what would otherwise seem powerful, unruly or chaotic — all the powers of this world are under God’s overruling power. They reflect the power of God — for God is the Creator of all that is. (more…)

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A Forgiving God – Psalm 25:11, 12

forgivenessForgiveness — the pardon of sins — is a central issue in Christianity. Jesus has made it so — and has taught us to pray: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Yet, it is also such a difficult issue. When there is a deep wound, the pain is still there, and the anger still arises. In times like this, we wonder: do the words mean anything? When time and time again, you have to pray “Lord, give me the grace to forgive my enemy” you have to wonder if there is ever hope for you. There have been many times, when I have wondered this about myself.

And, I know I’m not alone in having this problem. Those people who have done things that have caused wounds — especially those who have done it quite deliberately and knowingly — are hard to forgive. There are people I know who have been treated unfairly and unjustly. There are people I know who have been abused. And, the problem with forgiveness is that it seems to say that all that was okay. To let go of the anger and the outrage seems to give in to injustice — to give permission for their abuser to do it again to someone else. (more…)

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The Paths of the Lord – Psalm 25:8-10

psalmsSome people think that if they can just find God’s perfect will then their life would be easier — problems, setbacks, and disappointments would be eliminated.

Really?

I don’t know where such ideas come from — but a moment of thought will dispel them. The great Bible characters did not have lives that were devoid of difficulties or setbacks or griefs or disappointments. If this did not happen with them, how can I reasonably expect it for myself? Jesus grieved over Jerusalem. The apostle Paul knew setbacks and discouragements in his ministry. How can I suppose my life can be free from such things?

The path of the Lord is not easy, it is worthwhile. Those who choose to live as Christ has taught make a positive contribution to life — to their own life and to the lives of others. We move along a difficult path characterized by faith and love and hope. And, by doing so, we bring more faith and hope and love into the world. (more…)

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Brueggemann: To the Forsaken – Isaiah 42:15,16

“I will lay waste mountains and hills,
and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
and dry up the pools.

“I will lead the blind
by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42: 15, 16 NRSV)

Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann

This is a powerful, irresistible, transformative resolve, to be undertaken with a high level of emotional intensity. It is a burst of generativity that is going to change everything and create a newness. This is a God who will not forsake: “I will not forsake them” (42:16); “You shall no more be termed Forsaken” (62:4). In this resolve to new creation, YHWH promises to overcome all forsakenness and abandonment known in Israel and in the world. When creation is abandoned by YHWH, it readily reverts to chaos. Here it is in YHWH’s resolve, and in YHWH’s very character, not to abandon, but to embrace. The very future of the world, so Israel attests, depends on this resolve of YHWH. It is a resolve that is powerful. More than that, it is a resolve that wells up precisely in tohu wabohu and permits the reality of the world to begin again, in blessedness.

— Walter Brueggemann, An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible.

Note: The phrase “tohu wabohu” is a reference to the Hebrew phase used in Genesis 1:2, where before God’s creative action, the world is spoken of as being “formless and empty” (NIV). I have highlighted the phase in bold in the text below:

וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם

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